Surveillance at work: the legal issues of using CCTV

Do your employees understand how you use your surveillance cameras?

CCTV used to require installation by specialist security engineers, but modern small-scale camera systems can now be rigged up by almost anyone. Pam Loch, managing partner of Loch Employment Law, looks at the legal implications of surveillance cameras in the workplace.

Research in recent years has estimated that the average person in the UK is likely to be caught on CCTV surveillance cameras 70 times a day. In London it is estimated to be much higher.

Inevitably much of this footage is caught in a location that is – for somebody – his or her workplace. CCTV use at work is becoming increasingly controversial, as some feel the motivation behind it has developed from being used to promote safety and security to being used to monitor staff.

The use of body-worn cameras is now emerging within organisations, such as the NHS and the police, principally in the interest of staff safety, but also for use as evidence in court.

Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust recorded 850 assaults on staff between April and September 2016 and, as a preventative measure, it introduced body-worn cameras for security guards.

Logistics companies are also increasingly using “dash cams” in drivers’ cabs or on couriers’ bikes to protect staff and to use potential footage as evidence.

Fly on the wall

Surveillance cameras generate issues around consent from both the public and employees. Can staff be forced to wear a camera or carry a voice recording device? Do patients in the NHS, for example, know they may be filmed?

While the use of CCTV surveillance and the fact that the average person will be caught on CCTV numerous times a day has become the norm, some employers – or individual managers – may fail to be aware of the legal requirements and the codes of practice that are relevant when using surveillance cameras in the workplace.

Legally, employers must meet the requirements on use of data established in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), and the rights of privacy under the Human Rights Act 1998.

In 2012, the Protection of Freedoms Act was passed. Under this Act, a new code of practice regarding surveillance in public spaces was published in 2013. It applies to public authorities, but is also recommended for other organisations.

A surveillance camera commissioner (SCC) was also appointed, with the aim of promoting and monitoring the use of this new code. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in May 2015 also published its most up-to-date code of practices for surveillance cameras and personal information.

Some key points from the code of practice, and how this relates to employers, include:

  • If an employer wishes to use CCTV in the workplace, the ICO must be notified as to why they intend to use it. This is part of the registration process for a data controller under the DPA. An employer cannot then use the information collected for any other reason. For example, if the organisation is using CCTV to monitor crime, it cannot then use it to monitor staff. Employers should, before using surveillance cameras, carry out an impact assessment, decide if alternatives are possible and only go ahead if the use of cameras meets a legitimate aim.
  • Staff must be informed that they may be recorded and where cameras are located. To make this undisputable the employer should use clear and visible signs.
  • Levels of CCTV surveillance in work must be proportionate to the reasonable expectation of privacy. In certain areas with a higher level of expected privacy, such as near toilets, changing rooms, kitchen and break areas, it is unlikely to be acceptable to have cameras.

Employers should plan the collection and storage of this data in accordance with the DPA, particularly in regard to how it will be stored, for how long and who can see it.

Subject access requests

Maintaining integrity in these areas is essential. Employers need to be aware that staff can request to see the recordings kept of them by making a subject access request, and the data must be provided no longer than 40 days after a request is received.

The use of CCTV to monitor secretly will not automatically be admissible as evidence in court or in an employment tribunal. A judge will take into account all the circumstances, including whether or not there was a breach of privacy in obtaining the evidence.

Employers should have a written policy covering the use of CCTV in the workplace. This will not only reduce the employer’s risk of successful claims for breach of privacy, but could also make it easier to rely on CCTV evidence in defending employment tribunal claims.

Pam Loch

About Pam Loch

Pam Loch is managing partner of Loch Employment Law and managing director of Loch Associates Group.

36 Responses to Surveillance at work: the legal issues of using CCTV

  1. Avatar
    John Copsey 7 Jun 2017 at 11:25 pm #

    The owner/landlord of our commercial workshop has installed cameras which overlook the yard outside our workshop. We rent that yard as part of the premises. I understand that these cameras are linked to his personal mobile phone. He has done this with no prior avdice or discussions with us. Is this a breach of privacy?

    • Avatar
      Lay Campbell 14 Feb 2021 at 4:58 am #

      While I do understand that you are renting the yard the property itself still belongs to the landlord. With that being said if they have any reason to believe there are any crimes being committed such as destruction of property or illegal activity they may install cctv devices at their own leisure without warning.

  2. Avatar
    Jack 4 Jun 2018 at 1:51 pm #

    How long can your employer make you sit watching over 100 cameras?

  3. Avatar
    Joann Gilbert 27 Jun 2018 at 8:49 pm #

    Can my boss sit and watch cctv all day. Phoning to say move this, move that, why you not doing x??
    It’s not for any sort of surveillance just to tell staff what to do remotely

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      John sweeney 27 Jul 2019 at 8:20 pm #

      Can my supervisor direct operation from a control directing every step and movement i have to make. In a operatonal area were we would have 6 or 7 staff working.

  4. Avatar
    John 29 Jun 2018 at 8:20 am #

    Hi, yesterday my 18 year old son found out that his dressing down from his boss was streamed being filmed and streamed to members of staff in the head off for there enjoyment. I feel deeply hurt for my son who has handed his resignation today and feels bullied.

    What action/who can we talj to or were can I take, as I feel the law has been broken.

    • Avatar
      Jeff 7 Aug 2019 at 1:49 pm #

      That is a clear case of constructive dismissal. check it out!

  5. Avatar
    ada 10 Jul 2018 at 7:26 am #

    Hello, if the CCTV camera was zoomed to see what I am doing on my personal phone is okay? Or does it breach my privacy? And the screenshot of that was sent to me and my boss told me that lots of screenshots was still saved on his phone. What will I do?

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      Iona Gage 29 Oct 2018 at 3:01 am #

      I’d love to know answer to this manager screenshot cctv images of me at work on her personal mobile phone.There was no suggestion of criminal activity..

  6. Avatar
    gmail support 30 Jul 2018 at 5:29 pm #

    The usability of the CCTV is increasing day by day. As the crime or any kind of illegal issues has been increasing very rapidly so to stay safe and secure the concern people have an access on CCTV. It is used to spy on a particular place or specific event to secure that particular area from any kind of illegal issues.

  7. Avatar
    Howel Owen 10 Aug 2018 at 3:23 pm #

    Does my company have the right to install cameras inside the cab of my vehicle pointing directly at me without my permission/consent with no signage or warnings in place?

  8. Avatar
    Steve Lord 17 Aug 2018 at 12:55 pm #

    The Broad answer to your question is no. However, if they have it written in your Contract of Employment or Employee Handbook then yes they can. They could also claim it is for your safety, but they need to clear they are only recording yourself if they are capturing images of other persons they could be in breach of the General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR)

  9. Avatar
    Ian 26 Oct 2018 at 5:10 pm #

    Can my employer use the same footage that was used to see where a shoplifter left against me ? i.e the alarms didn’t go off and it was not known at the time that they were in the store. Only reviewing footage did they see the thief left an hour later. Can they use that same footage to discipline me against someone i did not know about, someone everyone was oblivious to ?

  10. Avatar
    Paul 8 Nov 2018 at 12:02 am #

    I work at a magistrates courts
    Question (1) do they have to have signs inside the court were the cctv cameras are
    Question (2) can they use these cameras to record us anytime and go back to watch what we are up to for no reason
    Question (3) I’m a cleaner at the Courts and one night I used the cameras to look outside because I heard a loud bang am I breaking any laws not sure if I need a licence to use them
    Question (4) can I request footage of myself

    • Avatar
      Michael Hickley 3 Feb 2019 at 9:20 pm #

      There has to be a reason to install CCTV cameras in the cab of a vehicle.There also has to be signs saying it is a CCTV controlled area, and who the operator is of the CCTV.

  11. Avatar
    CCTV Solution 3 Jan 2019 at 11:19 am #

    The use of body-worn cameras is now emerging within organizations, such as the NHS and the police, principally in the interest of staff safety, but also for use as evidence in court.

  12. Avatar
    Taz 5 Jan 2019 at 9:51 am #

    My manager has recorded footage of myself at work on his personal phone and is trying to use it against me is this legal when there’s no footage of it on the system?

  13. Avatar
    Darren 3 Feb 2019 at 2:46 am #

    Can my employer monitor my breaks by use of reviewing CCTV

  14. Avatar
    Riki 8 Feb 2019 at 2:28 pm #

    Can my employer check camera other than if an icedent happen my work place . And went back on day that no icedent happened way can I do

  15. Avatar
    Emma 10 Mar 2019 at 8:26 am #

    Can my employer and his boss stream the live CCTV onto their personal mobile phones to check whilst not at work ?

  16. Avatar
    Alan Challis 19 Mar 2019 at 4:47 pm #

    Can my employer refuse to give me a copy of cctv in which I am accused of having an argument with a supervisor. They are saying they will only give a solicitor a copy.

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      Anote 10 Jun 2019 at 6:19 pm #

      No they have to show you proof and also if signs are up about cctv and what they used for if this does not cover it they can’t use in court

  17. Avatar
    M jowett 23 Apr 2019 at 9:53 am #

    Hi, can you please tell me about HGV inward facing cctv cams. because my company just told us via email that they are now activated. No sign in cab.

  18. Avatar
    Claire Payne 6 May 2019 at 1:12 pm #

    Ive noticed whilst at work today that there is a cctv camera directly above my work station, no one else has one above theirs. Im not sure how long this camera has been there although ive never noticed it before! There is already 2 cameras in the kitchen, one at either end. The one i noticed today isnt directly looking at anything apart from me!!

  19. Avatar
    John 16 May 2019 at 10:47 am #

    My employer has tracked me for a whole shift, minute by minute. I found the written evidence and I binned it. I had done nothing wrong, just my job. My boss has never mentioned it – are they allowed to do this ?

  20. Avatar
    martin sylvester 24 May 2019 at 5:07 pm #

    I belong to a private members boating club. We have CCTV for security, however the club captain has issued a threat to use camera footage against those not complying with club rules, minor issues like tidying up etc. I am a committee member and feel this is a breach of what the cameras are for – can you advise?

  21. Avatar
    abula 27 Sep 2019 at 10:33 am #

    hi can my boss sit me with me to watch cctv after an incident

  22. Avatar
    Sally Collins 7 Nov 2019 at 3:29 pm #

    I work at one of those big well known petrol places and my co-worker is constantly watching me on CCTV and reporting to the manager even if I’m 10 mins late using the night window or forget to put the hazard Sign up when I’m mopping. Lots of stupid minor things and it’s driving me crazy to think my every move is monitored by a co- worker.

  23. Avatar
    Luther Lucas 23 Mar 2020 at 10:26 pm #

    Can we as board members, install just recording cams at the rec hall in a trailer park were bingo is played with inside and outside people, also dinners are held here with just park people. we are in florida Thanks.

  24. Avatar
    Remis 24 Jun 2020 at 6:43 pm #

    Can companies health and safety person can monitor cctv records without any issues just to check what time staff are coming to work and while doing this he has noticed what looks like a theft. Workers have never been informed about what they are used for. Health and safety or to monitor crime. Management are watching cctv any time they are bored. Can they use that cctv footage as evidence during disciplinary hearing and dismissal as gross misconduct occurred. Should I take the case to tribunal even if alleged crime occurred. It is not what it looks but that is another issue.

  25. Avatar
    Maxim 30 Oct 2020 at 12:41 am #

    How long CCTV workplace can still have old image for accident

  26. Avatar
    Worried 14 Dec 2020 at 4:15 pm #

    Can my employer force me to install webcam in my home. I work from home (was working from home kong before covid) and have just been informed that my company is to send webcam devices for us to install so that they can monitor us during work hours in my own home. Surely that cannot be legal, I understand workplace cameras but this is my home first and foremost.

  27. Avatar
    Cath yulo 21 Jan 2021 at 9:12 pm #

    Hi good day! Im from the philippines. I want to know sir if an employer is allowed to hear private conversations of their employees? And if they are allowed to watch them in private? Thank you…

  28. Avatar
    Scott 2 Feb 2021 at 9:06 pm #

    Hi There. Is it illegal to use personal mobile phones in a works cctv control room. I have worked in my current employment for 15yrs and have always used my mobile phone to make and receive calls if I need to, and so have all of my colleagues and managers. All of a sudden we have been informed that it is illegal to use mobile phones in the cctv room. Many Thanks

  29. Avatar
    Alf 20 Mar 2021 at 8:57 am #

    I am a carer working for an organisation that provides support to people in their homes. The parents of an individual I support that has just moved in to their own home have set up CCTV inside the property and did not initially inform the organisation I work for. This was later discovered through comments the parents were making about staff behaviour while at work. What are the responsibilities of the employer in this case, as the workplace is the private home of the individual? Is it a requirement to clearly sign where the cameras are placed? Do staff have the right to request the footage of them (my understanding is that this is only held by the parents and not the organisation, indeed the organisation have said they were not initially aware the cctv was in place).

  30. Avatar
    howlondon 4 May 2021 at 11:59 am #

    It’s a simple case that if we use CCTV for our security purpose then it’s ok. We all need to improve our security, but it doesn’t mean that we spy on someone or breach someone’s privacy, that’s not ok.

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